Review of Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee


by Mary Lyn Ray
illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books, 2011. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Picture Books

I’m normally not very touched by conceptual picture books trying to give readers a warm feeling. But Stars is something special.

I love Marla Frazee’s illustrations, and the children in this book have all the emotional expression of her pictures of Clementine. The words point out how many different kinds of stars there are, from stars in the sky to stars on plants to fireworks.

The illustration on the cover appears in the book accompanied by these words:

“What if you could have a star? They shine like little silver eggs you could gather in a basket.

“Except you know you can’t. Not really.”

The next page begins a concept that carries on through further pages:

“But you can draw a star on shiny paper and cut around it. Then you can put it in your pocket. Having a star in your pocket is like having your best rock in your pocket, but different.

“Because a star is different from a rock.”

Later, we’re told:

“Some days you feel shiny as a star. If you’ve done something important, people may call you a star.

“But some days you don’t feel shiny.

“Those days, it’s good to reach for the one in your pocket.”

Of course, the perfect marriage of words and illustrations enhance these words, as well as the appropriate vertical format.

I think I may go make a star to put in my pocket.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women Who Run With the Wolves

Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD

Ballantine Books, New York, 1997. First published in 1992. 582 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs: #2 Other Nonfiction

This wonderful book is full of riches. I read it very slowly, and will definitely want to read it many more times to better grasp the wisdom it contains.

For some time, I’ve loved books by Allan B. Chinen, such as Once Upon a Midlife, that take fairy tales from around the world and reveal the psychology behind them and what it means about the passages in a person’s life. Women Who Run With the Wolves is similar, taking fairy tales and stories from all over the world that shine light on women’s lives. Only Clarissa Pinkola Estes is much more poetical and symbolic in applying the fairy tales, so that her own skills as a storyteller shine out even in the explanations.

Here are some thoughts the author shares in the Introduction:

“Healthy wolves and healthy women share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women are reolational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mates, and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave.

“Yet both have been hounded, harassed, and falsely imputed to be devouring and devious, overly aggressive, of less value than those who are their detractors. They have been the targets of those who would clean up the wilds as well as the wildish environs of the psyche, extincting the instinctual, and leaving no trace of it behind. The predation of wolves and women by those who misunderstand them is strikingly similar….

“Like a trail through a forest which becomes more and more faint and finally seems to diminish to a nothing, traditional psychological theory too soon runs out for the creative, the gifted, the deep woman. Traditional psychology is often spare or entirely silent about deeper issues important to women: the archetypal, the intuitive, the sexual and cyclical, the ages of women, a woman’s way, a woman’s knowing, her creative fire. This is what has driven my work on the Wild Woman archetype for over two decades.

“A woman’s issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness. No, that is what has already caused millions of women who began as strong and natural powers to become outsiders in their own cultures. Instead, the goal must be the retrieval and succor of women’s beauteous and natural psychic forms.

“Fairy tales, myths, and stories provide understandings which sharpen our sight so that we can pick out and pick up the path left by the wildish nature. The instruction found in story reassures us that the path has not run out, but still leads women deeper, and more deeply still, into their own knowing. The tracks we all are following are those of the wild and innate instinctual Self….

“Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, act anything — we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories. Stories engender the excitement, sadness, questions, longings, and understandings that spontaneously bring the archetype, in this case Wild Woman, back to the surface.

“Stories are embedded with instructions which guide us about the complexities of life. Stories enable us to understand the need for and the ways to raise a submerged archetype. The stories on the following pages are the ones, out of hundreds that I’ve worked with and pored over for decades, and that I believe most clearly express the bounty of the Wild Woman archetype….

“This is a book of women’s stories, held out as markers along the path. They are for you to read and contemplate in order to assist you toward your own natural-won freedom, your caring for self, animals, earth, children, sisters, lovers, and men. I’ll tell you right now, the doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.

“The material in this book was chosen to embolden you. The work is offered as a fortification for those on their way, including those who toil in difficult inner landscapes, as well as those who toil in and for the world. We must strive to allow our souls to grow in their natural ways and to their natural depths.”

This book was a perfect choice for me as I was going through divorce and trying to figure out who I am as a single woman, looking at my life and wanting to create something beautiful. This book was exactly the sort of encouragement and wisdom I needed.

As she says, these stories are to read and contemplate. I highly recommend them, and I am sure I am going to come back to this book many times.

I’ll close with some bits of wisdom from its pages:

“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Listen, learn, go on. That is what we are doing with this tale. We are listening to its ancient message. We are learning about deteriorative patterns so we can go on with the strength of one who can sense the traps and cages and baits before we are upon them or caught in them.”

“A woman must be careful not to allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

“There is a time in our lives, usually in mid-life, when a woman has to make a decision — possibly the most important decision of her future life — and that is, whether to be bitter or not. Women often come to this in their late thirties or early forties. They are at the point where they are full up to their ears with everything and they’ve “had it” and “the last straw has broken the camel’s back” and they’re “pissed off and pooped out.” Their dreams of their twenties may be lying in a crumple. There may be broken hearts, broken marriages, broken promises.

“A body who has lived a long time accumulates debris. It cannot be avoided. But if a woman will return to the instinctual nature instead of sinking into bitterness, she will be revivified, reborn. Wolf pups are born each year. Usually they are these little mewling, sleepy-eyed, dark-furred creatures covered in dirt and straw, but they are immediately awake, playful, and loving, wanting to be close and comforted. They want to play, want to grow. The woman who returns to the instinctual and creative nature will come back to life. She will want to play. She will still want to grow, both wide and deep. But first, there has to be a cleansing.”

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Source: This review is based on my own personal copy.

Review of A Is For Art: An Abstract Alphabet, by Stephen T. Johnson


A Is For Art

An Abstract Alphabet

by Stephen T. Johnson

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008.  42 pages.

Starred Review.

Here’s an alphabet book for adults!  Or teens.  Or children.  A Is For Art is amazing and thought-provoking and clever and playful all at once.

The illustrations are photographs of actual abstract art works.  The artist says,

“For the past six years I have been exploring the English dictionary, selectively choosing and organizing particular words from each letter of the alphabet and, based solely on the meanings of the words, developing a visual work of art.  I took ordinary objects and made them unfamiliar, removing functionality in order to reveal their potential metaphorical associations, which can lead in turn to overlapping and sometimes paradoxical meanings.  I call these individual works ‘literal abstractions’ and the ongoing series An Abstract Alphabet….

“And just for fun, I have included the letter shapes of each letter of the alphabet in all the works.  Well, most anyway — you’ll see.

“For me, art, like language, is about discovery.  At its very best it can be moving, transcendent.  Or on a visceral level it can simply make one laugh out loud.  Art provokes, confounds, challenges, surprises, informs, rejuvenates, and stretches our way of seeing the world.  We cannot get enough of it.  So I hope that my work in this book will ignite and inspire dialogues about art, words, and ideas, which might quicken children and adults to generate creative associations and explore new ways of pulling abstractions out of the real.”

This book, left around, will pull people into delighted browsing.

My personal favorite was the sculpture for the letter M.  Here’s the explanation:

Meditation on the Memory of a Princess

“Motionless, a man-made, monochromatic magenta mass mimics multiple mattresses and makes a massive mound near a mini mauve marble.”

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Review of Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed, by SARK


Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed

The Ultimate Nap Book


Fireside Books (Simon & Schuster), 1999.  96 pages.

I’ve recently discovered SARK’s delightful books.  They’re gift books, and they are works of art.  She hand writes them with colorful rainbows of ink, with the pictures and the words expressing the exuberance.

This particular book is especially fun.  I started to say that it’s in defense of naps, but I think it’s better to say that this book is in celebration of naps.  There’s nothing defensive about her attitude toward taking naps!  Instead, she explains how much wonderful good naps can bring into your life. 

She gives reasons to nap, permission to nap, pleasures and benefits of napping, nap tips, nap quotes, and even describes fantasy naps and gives ideas for micronaps for parents.  (I like this one:  “Pile ALL the pillows on top of Daddy, and see how long it takes you!”

I finished reading this book on a day when I was scheduled to work 12:30 to 9:00.  Usually, I try to get lots done on such mornings.  That day, I did not have a “productive” morning, but I did have a very lovely one!

“Our lives are full of choices.  You can choose to nap.” — SARK

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Review of Artist to Artist


Artist to Artist

23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art

Philomel Books, New York, 2007.  105 pages.

Starred Review.

Review written January 30, 2008.

The title of this book explains the content, but doesn’t grasp the beauty.  In Artist to Artist, 23 geniuses of picture book illustration, such as Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg, Steven Kellogg, Rosemary Wells, Jerry Pinkney, and so many more, speak to aspiring artists about how they became an artist and what inspires them.

Each artist includes a self-portrait, a picture of themselves as a child, examples of early art, published art, and a look at the process of creating art, as well as a picture of their studios.  (I love the mess in Eric Carle’s—If you think about it, you’d realize that someone who deals with cut paper illustrations would have a mess of scraps on the floor.)  My favorite self-portrait is the one created by pop-up artists Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart—an amazingly intricate robot reaches out to embrace the reader, with the two happy artists inside the robot at the controls.  I found myself popping it out again and again.

Beautiful and inspiring, this is wonderful reading for someone like me—an adult with no artistic aspirations.  I can only imagine how much it could be enjoyed by someone in its intended audience—a budding artist ready to strive for greatness.

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Review of Poems for Life

Poems for Life
Famous People Select Their Favorite Poem and Say Why It Inspires Them
compiled by the Grade V Classes of the Nightingale-Bamford School
introduction by Anna Quindlen

Reviewed September 18, 2007.
Arcade Publishing, New York, 1995. 107 pages.

This book was compiled by a group of students. A teacher explains at the beginning,

We wanted the students not only to be awakened to a world of poetry through other people’s choices, but to become aware of a world of need outside their immediate communities, one to which they could in some way contribute.

The proceeds from the project went to charity. 

For two years, the students wrote to well-known people in all fields. Every day, they awaited the mail with eager anticipation. When a reply arrived it was greeted with curiosity and excitement. Each letter and accompanying poem was read in class and the poem and poet discussed. We greatly enjoyed finding out why people had selected a particular work, and we learned from what they had to say about it. What most struck all of us was how important poetry had been in the lives of the contributors, who had turned and returned to poems for amusement, solace, wisdom, and perhaps most importantly, to find some part of themselves.

All of the poems in this book are someone’s favorite, which means it makes good reading. The students included the letters sent by the celebrities, in most cases explaining why they chose that particular poem. Then the poem itself is included.

Contributors include people like Mario Cuomo, E. L. Doctorow, David Halberstam, Angela Lansbury, Yo-Yo Ma, Joyce Carol Oates, Diane Sawyer, Beverly Sills, Stephen Sondheim, and Kurt Vonnegut. This collection provides pleasant, fun, and many times inspiring reading.

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